Dave Morris, McLibel trial defendant and single parent in Tottenham, N.London, examines the purpose and effect of the opening up of schools to direct company influence - with McDonald's Ltd as an example.In the current government-led bonanza of the opening up of schools to the direct influence of companies, in particular through 'Education Action Zones' (EAZs), just what kind of influence is being encouraged? A look at the involvement of one company, the junk food chain McDonald's, reveals the the kind of threat that we need to counter in order to protect our children.
McDonald's have become more and more interested in schools throughout the 1990s, taking part in interview skills days, science week projects, breakfast clubs, work experience placements, pupils' visits to local stores, school fetes, good attendance voucher schemes, painting competitions and reading volunteers schemes. They have also sponsored conferences for governors and are now involved in EAZs (eg. the one covering 23 primary, junior and secondary schools in Weston-Super-Mare) and claim to spend over a million pounds a year on their 'Education Service'.
What could explain such apparently touching concern for children's welfare? If you're struggling to answer this vexed question, here's a huge clue from the 'Marketing' section of the Corporation's secret 'Operations Manual', the McBible for every local store manager 'Schools offer excellent opportunities. Not only are they a high traffic [sales] generator, but students are some of the best customers you could have. McDonald's have developed a number of programs that you can take into the schools in your area... Good relations with your local schools can also offer opportunities for crew recruitment.'
In the witness box during the mammoth 'McLibel' trial (which ended last year) the Corporation's Head of Marketing from Chicago admitted that children were 'virgin ground as far as marketing is concerned', and agreed that community and charitable activity was 'a benefit to the company', and 'good business' which gained 'free publicity'. He related how educational promotions in schools 'generate better feelings towards McDonald's' and lead to more 'patronage'. Their UK Marketing chief stated 'It is our [general] objective to dominate the communications arena...because we are competing for a share of the customer's mind.'
The McLibel judge ruled that McDonald's marketing strategy 'exploits children'. McDonald's argument that their advertising was totally legal and not fundamentally different from other companies only serves to underline the damaging effects of the continuous assault on children of a wide range of nauseating propaganda from industry in general. Do we really want such bodies to have even more direct access to our children, all the more sinister for being dressed up as 'concern' for their welfare?
McDonald's itself obviously also aim to promote junk food as normal and 'nutritious' [the McLibel judge ruled that this was a deceptive 'pretence'], benefitting from the gradual deterioration of the quality of school meals. The judge also ruled that McDonald's workers, 66% of whom are under 21, were so low-paid that it 'helped to depress wages in the catering industry', and the company was also anti-union to boot - again we must ask, should such organisations be allowed within a hundred miles of any school?
The government's aim is not just to advance the interests of particular companies but to ensure the commercial colonisation of areas of society where people have successfully fought in the past to keep capitalist ideas and practices out (or at least to a minimum) - for example schools, hospitals, community centres, council services and so on.
Regarding schools, the wolves are being invited into the fold. But there is resistance by teachers, parents, children and local communities. Its up to all of us to defend our kids by encouraging them to see through commercial hype and propaganda, and by organising, supporting and strengthening parents groups in every school, children's councils, teachers union branches, local residents associations and general opposition to capitalist ideas.
* McDonald's brought the libel case to suppress the distribution of critical leaflets, at the time given out in thousands - they are now distributed in millions worldwide! The McLibel Appeal, seeking to overturn oppressive UK libel laws, is scheduled for January 1999.